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More bad news for Kanawha library system

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha County library system's precarious financial situation is beginning to interfere with its day-to-day operations.

Beginning in January the Sissonville branch will reduce its weekly open hours from 39 to 30 to cope with the resignation of two full-time staff members.

"Our ability to allocate funding is very much compromised right now, so until we have a plan in place to deal with the impending reduction in funding we're not going to be hiring anyone new," library director Alan Engelbert said.

With the number of staffers at the Sissonville library reduced by two, that branch can no longer manage to operate at its customary schedule, so library officials elected to cut operating hours.

That decision doesn't reflect a broader decision on the reorganization of the library to deal with the recent loss of 40 percent of its funding.

But Engelbert said measures like this one may become customary over the next few months, until library officials settle on the library's more modest, long-term composition.

That process starts this week, when the newly formed "restructuring committee" meets for the first time Wednesday. That committee will report to the full board of directors at its next meeting.

In the interim, the library system will attempt to maintain its full scope of services -- it's still fully funded until June.

But officials warn that a reduction in staff may be imminent -- and they won't be filling positions as they become vacant. That means that staffing could be a struggle.

Engelbert warned the library's board of directors that officials may have to close branches or sections of the main library on short notice, to respond to fluctuation in staffing levels, whether due to resignations or illnesses.

"Staffing is just razor thin," he said. "Something as silly as someone getting a cold may affect whether a branch is open or not."

The library system started this fiscal year with 20 open positions -- the result of this tactic of not filling positions as they become vacant. Since the beginning of the fiscal year at the beginning of April 10 more positions have fallen empty through resignation or retirement. Officials expect to see another seven positions open up by the end of January.

 The library is coping with a budget crisis brought on by a February state Supreme Court decision that found the decades-old law forcing the county school system to fund the library was unconstitutional. That left the library scrambling to come up with about $3 million -- or 40 percent of its operating budget.

Last month, voters rejected an excess levy that would have generated those funds.

Library officials have also said the funding cuts could lead to long-term branch closures.  

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886.


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